No, Joe Biden, We Should Not Throw Another $300,000,000 Worth of Gasoline on the Fire
Here’s a thought experiment that attempts to explain why throwing more money at “reforms” won’t work and the only answer is to stop wasting money on a system that is designed to be impervious to reform.
Recruit the best, pay them well and set high standards.
Imagine that we replaced all the cops in the country with PhDs in social work, medicine, mediation, mental health, marriage counseling, conflict resolution, housing, education…well-meaning helping professionals of every stripe. Suppose we paid them excellent, professional salaries and provided them with workplace rules and guidelines based on the highest standards we could find.
Remember they already have Ph.D.’s in helping fields, but they are now our police force so we still have to take all these highly qualified helper types and give them military grade weaponry, train them in combat tactics and inculcate them with the idea that they are warriors whose job it is to occupy and dominate a hostile, alien citizenry…but nicely, according to the high standards in the rule book we just gave them and which we can train them on as much as we like.
The Noble Mission
Now image we send these fine, highly educated, well-paid and well-trained people boldly go forth to solve all our unfunded social problems.
Get homeless people off the streets when there is no housing for them.
Make our schools safe without enough teachers, nurses or counselors and with too may kids coming in hungry, neglected and traumatized.
Protect families from domestic violence without counseling resources or shelter beds;
Keep kids out of trouble with no money for recreation centers, mentorship, sports and arts programs, no libraries, summer programs or jobs.
Prevent crimes of poverty without providing adequate benefits or doing anything about unemployment and starvation wages.
Treat mental health crises when mental health services have been drastically cut.
And so on with every problem we have that we “can’t afford” to fix, to a large extent because we are spending so much on policing. (We’ll get to preventing and solving crime in a minute, so hold that thought.)
The Other Mission
And then suppose that after cutting everything else, we are still short of money so we decide to deploy the police to help raise their own salaries. So we add to their already impossible, thankless job the mandate to cruise around with a quota of citations that have to be issued for minor offenses, imposing fines that mainly exist on the books because it’s an easy way for cities to raise money without taxing anyone with the political power to fight back. And of course we have them concentrate these tactics in our poorest neighborhoods for the same political reason. As a result, people already trapped in poverty became ensnared in mushrooming debt and then in the court, probation and jail systems, all because they can’t pay a growing pile of fines, penalties, interest and fees.
And then suppose we further distract these public employees with everything from taking accident reports to chasing lost dogs, to providing transport for people whose only access to medical care is to wait until they are in crisis and then call 911 to go to an ER…pretty much whatever we can’t afford to have anyone else handle..
So What About Crime?
By now our hapless heroes have no time or resources left over to prevent or solve crimes and we are at a point where only 40% of victims even bother to report crimes (many of them just to file insurance claims, with no expectation that the crime will actually be solved or their property restored) and only a small fraction of even those reported crimes are ever resolved. We find ourselves living in a country where a petty arrest is made every 3 seconds but thousands of rape kits gather dust in warehouses never to see the light of day.
So now suppose that when crime rates don’t budge and people complain, we just add arrest quotas on top of everything else, institute stop and frisk laws and double down on hostile, counterproductive, life-wrecking encounters with already overburdened communities.
You Reap What You Sow.
Image how the people on the short end of the nightstick might feel about these, fine, well-meaning, highly educated and largely useless predators. Imagine how frustrated these well-intentioned guardians of the public good might be when despite their best efforts to do everything they were asked to do they end up feared, resented and hated. And then imagine everyone scared, traumatized and at the flashpoint.
How many stressful shifts and angry confrontations would it take before one of those frustrated, alienated, stressed-out social workers just flipped out and shot someone? And then suppose we let this keep happening in a big, hot mess of un-interrupted and largely un-addressed assaults, brutality and murder until people get fed up and take to the streets. Well, here we are.
And all this blood and treasure in exchange for what?
A pathetic record of not even solving crimes and so much undeserved pain and suffering inflicted on our most vulnerable neighbors. Who is being served? Who is being protected? And why on God’s green earth would we want to pour more money down this bottomless hole?
But It Just Gets Better (Actually Worse)
To top it all off, in our current reality we’re not dealing with misdirected do-gooders but with a culture of entrenched racism, a toxic union, and way too many white supremacists, sociopaths and just plain unsuited and under-qualified repeat offenders who should never have been hired, armed or given authority in the first place and should have been fired long ago. The point is that even under the best conditions with the best people, the problems are baked in and can’t be resolved by reform or by better training, recruiting, educating or other failed strategies. It’s the culture, the mission and the structure that have to be changed and it won’t happen by further starving everything else to throw more money at the problem.
And That Is Why We Say, DEFUND THE POLICE.
We cannot beat, gas and shoot our way out of socially constructed problems, many of which we might not have in the first place if we had our economic priorities straight. We need to move our public money to real solutions, not more violence and repression. After that, can we begin to look at what public safety really means and how to get there. And yes, a better way is possible. It’s not pie in the sky. Other countries have safer streets and lower crime rates at a lower cost and without the carnage. Enough already. Say it with me: Defund the police.